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RELEASE DATE (NA): November 1988 GENRE: Action-RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Whip garlic gently but firmly...

In every series of video games, there's always that one title, that black sheep of the crowd that wants to be different. There's Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, the only game of the Zelda series that contains a hard-hitting heavy dosage of side-scrolling action and an experience points system. There's Contra Force, the most sluggish of the Contra games with practically no tie with the rest of the games, with the exception of the fact that you shoot enemies. There's Star Fox Adventures, which opted to take a left turn in the space flight series for an action-adventure-seek-out-every-possible-collectible-item style game. And there's Castlevania II: Simon's Quest.

What's different about this game is how the regular action sequences are handled. In the previous Castlevania game for the NES, there were a set number of stages that your character would have to traverse by whipping his foes and eventually defeating the boss at the end of the stage. This would go on until you meet up with Dracula and get rid of him (again, through the ancient art of whipping it, whipping it good). Such is not the case here. Although your quest is fairly linear, the way you go about undertaking that quest is not. You're free to wander around, fighting enemies such as skeletons and zombies in order to collect hearts, which are used primarily as currency for buying items and weapon upgrades in towns. Yes, there are towns here too -- this is not often seen in Castlevania games! And you can talk to the townsfolk to hear their cryptic clues regarding your quest (though as you get to later parts of the game, too many people spend their time telling you how attractive you are).

Anyway, your goal is to collect the different parts of Dracula, take them to his castle, resurrect him, and then defeat him. It would probably have been easier NOT to do that, but considering that Simon (and the entire surrounding land) has been cursed by Dracula, he'll probably want to defeat Dracula again to remove the curse. Yup. So the mansions where the parts are scattered are found in varied parts of Transylvania, and so you have to do some major traveling to find those mansions. Of course, they're pretty easy to get through, and boss encounters are minimal (there are only three in the game, including Dracula himself). Your major focus in the game will not be the mansions themselves, but just GETTING there. And you also gain experience -- I went up two levels during my entire quest, and it didn't do much for me except refill my health when I leveled up, which was nice. ...did you catch all that? I sure hope so!

As I mentioned, you can purchase things. Yes, you sure can. But there aren't a wide variety of items; just your basic needs will do. Upgrades to your whip, garlic, and laurels if you want some temporary invincibility. The only other thing you will need to purchase regularly in this game is an oak stake, which is only sold within mansions, so you don't have to worry about buying a stake until you get to one. There are also other items you pick up during your quest, such as Dracula's various parts, which help you out in some way. For example, when you have equipped Dracula's Eyeball, you will able to see hidden clues in walls that you can hack out and read, which will help you on your quest...unless you have a walkthrough, in which case you are no better than me. But of all the items that may prove useful, nothing beats the wonders of the Holy Water, which can be used to hurt enemies, or break blocks and open new passages! It even helps uncover hidden tomes if you toss it in the right places.

One of the other aspects that sets this game apart from most other Castlevania games is the day/night system. Unless you are inside a building, such as a town shop or a mansion, time will be passing right before your eyes, as can be seen via a twenty-four hour clock running on your menu screen. As you wander around, day will turn to night, and you will see one of the most famous messages in Castlevanian history at sunset: "WHAT A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO HAVE A CURSE." But that little pearl of wisdom comes up every day at 6:00pm, so essentially, every night is a horrible night for a curse. During the night, there are a few changes to gameplay. Besides the fact that the sky is darker, the enemies also require more whip hits in order to be defeated, although they do give you more hearts in return. Also, zombies roam within towns at night, so get out that whip and take them DOWN! Unfff! Take down those zombies. You also can't enter town doors, which stinks, especially when you want to buy garlic at midnight; you'll have to wait until morning to satisfy your clove craving.

The graphics are pretty standard for the time of its release. Nothing really stands out... even Simon Belmont isn't too exciting to look at. He really needs to spice up his wardrobe; earth tones just aren't cool (although brown clothing hides dirt well enough). Also, most of the music in this game seems to be easily forgotten, except for the initial town music, which I seem to find quite relaxing for some reason. Given the nature of the NES sound chip, this game has some killer bass in a few of its tracks. It just makes you want to get up and create a Transylvanian discothèque in your own living room! Unfortunately, my disco ball was in the shop. ...where was I going with this?

Is Castlevania II fun? Yes. But if you are simply looking for straightforward adventuring with no need for excessive thinking and clue-finding, you're not going to be so amused with the game. It does sort of have that Castlevania feel, yet it also gives the impression of a completely different game. Konami took a risk with its sequel, but certainly they did not do anything particularly harmful to the series. And just to appease fans' worries, Castlevania III took back the night and returned to the series' roots of traveling along, simply whipping, not worrying about buying laurels or keeping an eye to the skies for dusk to return. Still, this title should not be overlooked, for it is indeed a classic.

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